LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas on Friday reported its greatest one-day increase in new coronavirus cases as the University of Arkansas moved to restrict campus activities and large parties off-campus to combat a growing outbreak.
The Department of Health reported 1,094 new confirmed cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the state's total since the pandemic began to 64,175. The state reported an additional 111 cases through antigen testing.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19 rose by 12 to 873. The state also reported 11,254 tests conducted Thursday, its largest in one day. The number of people hospitalized decreased by 24 to 401.
The spike in cases comes as health officials said they're worried about the possibility of the outbreak growing over Labor Day weekend, especially on college campuses.
“This is for us in public health a very anxiety-provoking period," said Dr. Jose Romero, the state's health secretary.
The University of Arkansas reported 248 more people on its main campus in Fayetteville tested positive for the virus, bringing its active cases to 639. The largest number of new cases reported by the state came from Washington County, where the campus is situated, with 82% of them coming from people aged 18 to 24.
University officials said Friday that they were suspending most on-campus activities other than classes or athletics. Students also were warned that university administrators would treat off-campus parties attended by 10 or more people without masks or social distancing as a violation of its student code.
“We understand that students enjoy getting together to socialize, but at this time events where social distancing and mask-wearing do not occur run the risk of further spreading the disease and putting others at risk," Charles Robinson, the school's interim provost and vice chancellor for student and academic affairs, said in a message to the campus.
The city of Fayetteville also announced it would have an increased number of police officers and fire marshals in the city's entertainment district over the weekend to help enforce coronavirus safety measures.
The state has also seen cases at other college campuses. Arkansas State University, for example, reported 137 active cases on its campus.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he's not considering any more statewide restrictions and defended what he called a “targeted" approach to the outbreak. The Republican governor has rejected a White House panel's recommendation that it close bars or impose other restrictions in parts of the state with a high rate of positive tests.
Hutchinson praised UA and Fayetteville's response to the outbreak, and said the state will be monitoring the cases on campus as well as the school's contact tracing and ability to isolate positive cases.
“These measures they're taking particularly utilizing the code of conduct for students gives them an opportunity to get a handle on this quickly," Hutchinson said. The governor said he and Romero will be talking next week with other schools impacted by the virus to see what additional steps need to be taken.
Sen. Greg Leding, a Democrat whose district includes the UA, said he had expected to see a jump in cases but said the spike was still shocking. He said the governor should revisit the possibility of closing bars or other restrictions.
“We can’t fully reopen our economy and get it going again until we get this disease in check," Leding said. “That will mean some difficult decisions down the road."
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